Puritans and Calvinism by Peter Toon

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There are six characteristics of a true Puritan according to our author: a commitment to the Bible as the Word of God; a commitment to Reformed theology (not necessarily 5-point Calvinism); a desire for a reformed, national Church of England; a belief in the necessity of personal regeneration; a need of reformation at the national, local and domestic level by means of legislation, catechizing, religion in the home and fervent prayer and fasting; a strong sense that the last days had dawned or were about to dawn. By this definition Puritans are only truly to be located in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Puritans and Calvinism traces the roots, victories, defeats, developments and divisions of Puritanism. Some of the many things that I learned from this book are: The difference between Presbyterian and Congregationalist Puritans; many of the issues that motivated the Puritan movement revolved around ritualistic observances that they opposed; Puritans believed that God would soon overthrow both Catholicism and Islam; the many divisions into which Puritans would splinter; and the role of Oliver Cromwell.

The following quote from Thomas Hooker’s 1629 sermon sums up pretty well the perspective of many Puritans concerning the established church, “God is going, His glory is departing, England has seen her best days, and now evil days are befalling us; God is packing up His Gospel because nobody will buy His wares, nor come to His price” (p27). The Pilgrims would take this attitude to America. As John Cotton prepared to sail to the new land he preached from the text of II Sam. 7:10: “Moreover I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and I will plant them that they may dwell in a place of their own and move no more” (p.29). The Massachusetts Colony would be no haven for religious tolerance, however. The ministers believed they had found a blueprint of church government in Scripture and that was Congregationalism; thus nothing else was permitted by law, including Presbyterianism.

Other Puritans sought to reform the Church of England. The Westminster Assembly in 1649, from which emerged the Westminster Confession, was just such an attempt. But by 1689 comprehensive efforts to reform the Church had failed, so they most reluctantly accepted the role of ‘separatists.’

This book is an excellent overview of English Puritanism.

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